Being frugal doesn't have to involve punishing yourself. There are easy ways to stretch your dollars when you're making planned purchases.
Recently I wrote a post called “Beware false economies,” which included examples of frugality that could actually cost someone money, health or reputation. A reader said those examples confirmed that “people believe ‘frugal’ or living within or below one’s means equals doing without.”
My immediate reply: “Good point! Just as some people believe that dieting or exercise must be unpleasant if it’s to be effective.”
After some reflection I believe it’s more than the “no pain, no gain” mentality. The attitude many people have is more one of crime and punishment:
If you gain weight, you are bad and must suffer in order to take it off.
If you don’t have enough money in this Land of Opportunity, you are less than worthy and must endure privation. That is, until you can get another line of credit.
We’ve been exposed to hyper-consumerism for so long that we forget there’s another way of living in the world. Specifically, we forget that a large population of the world lives without the things we believe are our birthright: the latest tech, the hottest cars, the biggest cable package, the trendiest foods, the flashiest clothes.
Spending should be a choice
Here’s the thing: You can be frugal and still have some or all of those things. You just have to be intentional about how you obtain them. (More on that below.)
I’m not against buying. What bugs me is blind consumerism, the “See it? Want it!” attitude. I fight it myself, especially regarding gifts for others. “It’s only $2.99 and it’ll make (whomever) so happy,” I’ll think.
Sometimes I’ll spring for the $2.99. Most of the time I walk away. Or, as I tell myself, “I’m saying ‘no’ this time.”
That’s the crux of the matter: My spending has to be a choice, not a tropism. I don’t want to automatically gravitate toward a hot deal like a seedling toward the sun.
Frugal hacks that work
That said, plenty of ways exist to get what you want without spending a lot. Among them:
- Deal-a-day sites. I’m no fashionista, so I tend to stick to sites like Eversave and MyBargainBuddy.com. Both offer a wide range of goods and services. I’ve bought gifts this way, too.
- Thrift stores. Your mileage may vary, of course. I’m already missing Seattle’s thrift stores because their wares are based on a much bigger population. But I’ve found some decent deals and some outright steals at Anchorage segundas over the years.
- Cash-back shopping sites. When I make planned purchases through Extrabux, Ebates, FatWallet.com or Mr. Rebates, I get cash refunds, online coupons and usually free shipping. The rebate checks are always a nice surprise – and they go directly into savings. (Note the use of the word “planned.” It’s not a bargain if you don’t need it/can’t afford it.)
- Social buying sites. These aren’t just for massages and manicures. Groupon and Living Social offer vouchers for health care, home services and auto repair. That said, they’re also a good way to get treats/give gifts on a budget.
- Rewards programs. Through Swagbucks and MyPoints I get gift cards for restaurants, movie theaters, department stores and Amazon.com. Some I use and some I give as gifts (which means I can redirect the money I’d planned to spend for holidays and birthdays).
- Yard sales. Some are great, some awful. Be willing to wade through a lot of junk and you just might strike gold, either for yourself or for birthday/holiday shopping. (Hint: A whole lot of unread books and unopened gifts end up with 50-cent tags on them. Imagine taking care of half your Christmas list for $5.)
- Discounted gift cards. I use these like cash at theaters, restaurants, department stores, pet supply warehouses and even the hair salon. Search for the deepest discount through the aggregator site GiftCardGranny.com – and when possible, buy them through one of the cash-back sites noted above for another 3 percent to 5 percent in savings.
Believe it or not, I do buy retail – just not all that often. Being intentional about my spending most of the time means less pain when I do pay full price.
This is especially true for big-ticket items. Next week my partner and I are splitting the cost of a new water heater because the old one has become incontinent.
A certain amount of sticker shock exists with any major home appliance, but once again having saved where I can lets me spend where I want. You can be frugal and still look good and give great presents – and take hot showers too.
More on DonnaFreedman.com: